Leading up to yesterday's party-line initial passage in the Senate of Colorado Senate Bill 14-077, the so-called "Parent's Bill of Rights," Republican proponents of the bill have complained mightily that the debate was being derailed by "undue" attention paid to the bill's provisions making it easier for parents to opt children out of routine vaccinations. As we've discussed in this space over several posts, Republicans face an unwelcome tension between a general public that overwhelmingly believes children should be vaccinated, and a small but highly vocal segment of voters and elected officials who entertain (or at least are willing to politically exploit) scientifically unfounded fears about vaccine safety.
Unfortunately, yesterday's floor debate on the bill more or less undid any argument from more reasonable Republicans that the "Anti-Vaxxer Bill of Rights" isn't exactly what it looks like. A quick roundup of the ample press coverage, starting with the Denver Post's John Frank:
The main effect of the legislation, although it went unacknowledged by supporters, would prevent teenagers from receiving birth control without parental approval and make it a crime for a physician to provide care to a minor without parent consent.
The measure also reaffirms current law that allows parents to remove their children from sex education and opt out of immunization requirements, a conversation that comes as Colorado faces scrutiny for some of the most lax vaccination laws in the nation. [Pols emphasis]
The Durango Herald's Peter Marcus:
The bill would set rights pertaining to education, health care and mental health. It is expansive, and within its language is a provision that would require parents to be notified of a right to be exempt from any state immunization laws…
Roberts acknowledged that some called her “crazy” for signing onto the bill. The moderate Durango Republican said the vaccination component wasn’t compelling to her. [Pols emphasis] She said the bill is really about building family networks.
“It’s not a vaccination bill,” Roberts told The Durango Herald in an interview on Monday.
But as AP's Kristen Wyatt reports, Sen. Ellen Roberts doth protest too much:
Another sticking point in the bill is a requirement that schools tell parents that they don’t have to vaccinate their children.
Republicans insist the law makes no change to Colorado’s current policy on vaccination, with parents already allowed to opt out for religious or “personal belief” reasons.
“The media has definitely spun this bill into the immunization bill … that’s shallow and misguided,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.
But much of the testimony in committee centered on vaccine policy, [Pols emphasis] and Democrats said the language could encourage more parents to opt out of immunizations.
We've posted a video above of clips from yesterday's debate that highlight the contradiction between Republicans who insist that vaccinations are a non-issue sideshow, and others who explain that no, it's what the bill is about. In addition, we've posted Sen. Laura Woods' floor speech on this bill in its entirety after the jump because it's…well, it's pretty remarkable. We're particularly surprised to see Sen. Roberts' full-throated defense of this bill, which exposes her to major political liability in future races with seemingly no upside. We had heard that Roberts agreed to cosponsor this legislation in hope of gaining support for her bills from fellow Republicans, not out of personal conviction–but now she has been firmly linked to the "anti-vaxxer" stigma she obviously dislikes in her local media, and done nothing to extricate herself.
The fact is, attempting to deny that this legislation was about the hot-button subject of vaccinations, when sponsoring lawmakers and a throng of witnesses testifying in support have made it very speficiallly about just that, was always going to backfire. It's exactly the sort of contradiction the press loves to pick apart in damaging news stories like the ones you see above. The mailers and attack ads that will result from this legislation will be truly devastating. And for a bill that was never going to make it through the Democratic-controlled House anyway, what Senate Republicans have done to themselves here makes absolutely zero political sense.
And it can't be undone now.